David Portnoy's Barstool Sports is the bible of bro culture. Rude, crude, sexist and often mean-spirited--even Howard Stern has complaints--the site has become a go-to for young men who say they are disenfranchised by the mainstream media. With legions of fans, Barstool is expanding its original content offerings and even eyeing a move into broadcasting. Is this take-no-prisoners style of entertainment the future? And can Portnoy continue to cash in on controversy?
The natives are growing restless. "We want Pres!" they chant. "We want Pres!"
Barstool Sports' Blackout electronic dance music party is approaching critical mass, but the site's founder, David Portnoy--the self-appointed El Presidente, aka The Mogul, aka Davey Pageviews--is unfazed by the controlled chaos erupting around him. Ignoring the entreaties of the capacity crowd assembled here at Boston's House of Blues, Portnoy sits inside the club's greenroom hunched over a borrowed laptop, his attention focused on blogging photos of a shirt-less fat guy in a Lucha Libre wrestling mask and cape, captured just moments ago at that night's Boston Red Sox/Baltimore Orioles game and sent in by a member of Barstool's rabid fan base.
An hour later, it's showtime. Several junior members of the Barstool staff squeeze into ill-fitting, sweat-encrusted Smurfs and Star Wars costumes, arming themselves with confetti cannons, fire extinguishers and other tools of the Blackout trade. When they begin dancing and cavorting across the black-light-illuminated stage, the audience--teens and twentysomethings uniformly decked out in neon tank tops, surfer shorts and flip-flops--explodes in appreciation, uncorking the kinds of shrieks and shouts typically reserved for rock stars, not bloggers and interns.
Portnoy surveys the spectacle from offstage, then returns to the greenroom. The Blackout audience may want Pres, but it isn't going to get him tonight. "I don't even want to be here," he grumbles. "I should be at home catching up on The Newsroom with a bowl of popcorn in my lap." Instead he goes home and bangs out another blog, this one posted to the site just after 1 a.m.
Portnoy is a man who does what he wants, when he wants, and his haters-gonna-hate attitude, tireless work ethic and uncanny understanding of the elusive 18- to 35-year-old male demographic have built Barstool Sports from a weekly sports-betting-theme print publication distributed for free at Boston transit stops to a digital multimedia juggernaut: a wide-ranging, unabashedly profane men's lifestyle blog bolstered by flourishing live events and merchandise businesses. A much-imitated, never-duplicated resource for the latest on sports, entertainment and women--the tent poles of the dude zeitgeist--the site is must-reading for a growing legion of high-profile male athletes and sports-media personalities, many of whom have appeared on the Barstool-produced online video series "The Bro Show" and podcast "KFC Radio," hosted by blogger Kevin Clancy, who heads Barstool's New York City efforts.
"If you polled all the players in the [National Hockey League], I'd say 25 percent of them read Barstool," says San Jose Sharks all-star center Logan Couture, a "KFC Radio" guest in February. "I started reading it about five years ago. It made me laugh, and I've been reading it ever since."
Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.